In 2017, artists had plenty to push up against in multiple directions, but it was more than just that. It would be unfair to say that everything had something to do with politics, though I hold to my previous statement that politics impacted every release in some way. Credit also goes to the talent of the artists writing great songs. Regardless of the happenings, good songs will be written, and my hope is that I’m standing in the right place to receive them. There is a lot of noise out there. It is impressive enough that a song can be written, recorded, pressed, released and marketed and then somehow end up in front of me. But, to also have those songs connect… that’s why we keep listening. We know that if we keep looking and waiting, we’ll find that song that timestamps this moment in our lives, that will always bring us back to here.
Mondo Cozmo — Plastic Soul
Before 2017 had even started, I was getting excited about a new project called Mondo Cozmo. The singer, Josh Ostrander, had been in a favorite, overlooked band called Eastern Conference Champions, whose Speak-Ah record I devoured. But these new songs and the mysterious new moniker were worlds above those ECC cuts. These songs were beyond just about anything else that I had been hearing. “Shine” and “Hold On To Me” were anthems with a purity that is becoming a lost art. They felt like classics on the very first listen, and to this day, I still get goosebumps on both of them. When the Plastic Soul album did finally arrive this summer, it wasn’t just those two songs and a bunch of filler. Every song had that same quality, an album stacked front to back. Josh is finally having his day, and it could very well be just the beginning.
Elbow — Little Fictions
Another band finally getting their moment in the sun is Elbow. While they’ve been successful in the United Kingdon for a decade, it’s still been word of mouth in the States. Calling that a shame is a huge understatement. My bias lies in not just my adoration, but complete loyalty. Their first “hit,” “Grounds For Divorce,” carried me through dark times and is still a helluva banger. Their last album has “New York Morning,” a contender for 2014 song of the year. This year’s Little Fictions picks up where it left off, but finds lead man Guy Garvey in newfound love, which gave him a different head space than the rest of us. Falling in love when everything was falling apart. It gave him a pallet of colors that seem like a distant memory for the rest of us, playing out in poetry and sustaining notes over playful rhythms. But he wasn’t oblivious to the spinning world around him, evident on a line from the sweeping lead single “Magnificent:” “And there she stands throwing both her arms around the world / The world that doesn’t even know how much it needs this little girl.” That lump in your throat is proof that you’re still human.
When the last notes of Elbow fade, take the hidden entrance into Benjamin Clementine’s I Tell A Fly. Of all of my favorite 2017 records, this one is the most interesting. There are classical piano pieces, pop songs, operatic detours, hip-hop beats, and lyrics about aliens and awkward fish. Clementine comes from a different world creatively (and maybe physically), which means what he can do with a pop song begins in an absolute different starting position than the rest. There are no rules. There are no boundaries. And it’s all completely beautiful.
Hurray For the Riff Raff — The Navigator
The LP that I wish would have been so much bigger, had been heard by so many more ears than it did, is Hurray For the Riff Raff’s The Navigator. While it’s a thematic, conceptual piece on history, heritage and gentrification, it’s also the most well-written batch of songs that Alynda Segarra has ever produced. And while our backgrounds couldn’t be more different, I stand with her every time the line “shouting from the rooftops” plays during “Living In the City.” “Hungry Ghost” proves her versatility against early folk beginnings, and “Rican Beach” concludes with a mantra of “we’ll keep fighting till the end.” For me, it is the single most important lyric of 2017. Beyond Trump, beyond BLM and #MeToo. It’s a stand for compassion in humanity every day forever. To be our better selves. To be better to this Earth. The power of a song, again and again and again.